New Democrats Seek to Block Rise of Progressives to DNC Leadership
Economist Bill Black explains why Democrats run the risk of alienating progressives – their most reliable voting base – if Tom Perez becomes the next DNC chair
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown, in Baltimore.
Wednesday was the first day of the Conservative Political Action Committee’s Annual Conference, otherwise known as CPAC, held at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. This is an annual gathering of Conservatives where President Donald Trump is expected to address the Convention later on this week. But also on Wednesday, CNN hosted a debate between the numerous candidates seeking to be the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, and to discuss this and some of the arguments or repercussions within that debate, we’re joined today by Bill Black. Bill is an associate professor of both economics and law at the University Missouri at Kansas City. He’s also a white collar criminologist and author of the book, “The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One.” He’s joining us today from Minnesota. Bill Black, thank you for being here.
BILL BLACK: Thank you.
KIM BROWN: So, Bill, it was a really interesting and spirited, lively debate between, I believe it’s several candidates seeking to run the DNC and to be the Chair of that organization. And many are sort of categorizing this as a debate between Democratic corporatists and Progressives. What did you see at that debate and what was your take-away?
BILL BLACK: Well, the debate has become a little more of a game theory approach to stuff. So, the candidates that have really no chance of winning are of course making the most vibrant statements in this situation because the idea is, you’ve got nothing to lose — you might as well, you know, try to capture the wave. Create the wave and then capture it yourself.
The Progressive candidate in the debate, the guy that was the clear front-runner and where the corporatists in the form of Chuck Schumer, you know, the Minority Leader in the Senate, had decided, yeah, okay, we’re going to give Progressives a shot at running the DNC. That candidate he’s a Congressman from a District just a couple miles from where I am sitting. His name is Keith Ellison, and he clearly was going to win. But the folks that you’re probably using the phrase corporatists to mean, although that phrase, you know, they would deny it, but in any event, clearly President Obama stepped in, while he was still President by the way, to try to make sure that Progressives would not have the leadership of the DNC. And in particular, not Progressives associated with Bernie Sanders. And Congressman Keith Ellison had been a prominent surrogate, probably the most prominent surrogate on television for example, for Bernie Sanders, and considered very effective in that role. At that juncture, Obama had to figure out how to defeat Keith Ellison, which is a difficult task. Ellison had momentum, well respected and such.
So, they did a couple of things. First, they needed a candidate. And the candidate they got is Tom Perez and he, by the way, is from Maryland, you were talking about that earlier, and had been expected to be the likely Democratic candidate to try to retake the Governorship of Maryland from a very right-wing Conservatives. So, it was strange in those circumstances that you would take someone who was viewed as a real Party “hope” to take back an important Republican seat, in this case, being Governor of Maryland, and instead use him at the DNC. So, at that point, the Clintons joined in to the effort because like President Obama, they have real fury against anyone connected with Bernie Sanders.
And right now, you’ve seen Ellison moving to the right, in the debate, Perez trying to emphasize his ties to labor, and so, you know, it’s a clever thing in the standpoint of the New Democrats using someone like Tom Perez. And what I’ve just wrote is… I mean, the real question is, why did Perez allow himself to be used this way? Now, if he says he’s a Progressive in orientation, why did he allow himself to be used against the Progressive movement and there’s, you know… He’s not given an answer to that question.
KIM BROWN: Bill Black, I want to kick it to a clip of Keith Ellison and Tom Perez in the debate, actually referencing what you’re speaking about, the labor movement and how the Democrats can try to reclaim labor and union members as part of their base.
KEITH ELLISON: I believe that those are our issues. Free… fair trade is our issue. That’s why the AFL-CIO endorsed me. That’s why the Steelworkers endorsed me. Leo Gerrard, one of the people I really admire, said that in Baltimore right after the disturbance with Freddy Grey, he said, “Let me tell ya that we used to have 30,000 steelworkers in Baltimore. Now we’ve got three. We have been hit hard by policies over the last four decades. Wages have stagnated and the Democratic Party has got to be the party that is fighting for working people every single day. And we have always got to be on the side of the worker. We can never be found standing on the other side when working people are trying to make a living.
WOMAN: You were Labor Secretary. You supported and defended TPP. So, why would you be the right messenger to bring working class voters back to the Democratic Party?
TOM PEREZ: Well, you know, I think implicit in that question is “Tom’s not a Progressive”, and you know what? I take a back seat to no one in what I accomplished in the Labor Department. We fought for increasing the minimum wage. We implemented an overtime rule. We attacked the issue of retirement security. I’m proud of the fact that the Head of the AFL-CIO called me the, you know, best Labor Secretary since Frances Perkins. So, I move forward and I was part of Team Obama and I’m damned proud of being part of Team Obama. And when you’re part of a team, you don’t go to the buffet line and say, “I’m going to play here and play there.” And when we talked about the issue of trade, I was always talking about the American worker. And you know what? That’s why I have the support of people from the labor movement.
KIM BROWN: You know, Bill, that argument right there sort of highlights the division between Democrats on this issue in particular, when it comes to labor and trade about how former Labor Secretary. There Tom Perez supported TPP which many Progressives did not, including Bernie Sanders, and ultimately TPP was killed by President Donald Trump after being championed so hard by President Barack Obama. So, talk about this issue specifically, and how it sort of highlights the lack of seeing eye-to-eye when it comes to Democrats.
BILL BLACK: Right, so life is complicated and President Obama and the Clintons were very clever in picking Perez to be their candidate to try to defeat Ellison and Sanders’ Progressive-type movement because in fact, Perez was a relatively effective Secretary of Labor. And before that in the Justice Department he was the most effective. Now this is damning with faint praise to some extent, but he was the most effective senior Justice Department official in going after banks. Now, he only went after them in terms of discrimination and he only went after them in terms of civil cases. So, he didn’t put any of them in prison for these… any of the major ones for these crimes. So, you know, it wasn’t great but compared to the rest of the Justice Department, it’s certainly true that he was good and Progressives would have been very happy to support Perez in a run for being Governor of Maryland. Indeed, Progressives would have been as they are typically for Democrats, by far, the key people you would rely on. They have much better turnout and they vote a much higher percentage of the time for the Democratic candidate.
Now, what he just said about this buffet metaphor is really interesting in terms of Trump because what the Democrats are saying of course is we want to make sure that Trump Cabinet appointees don’t simply do what Donald Trump wants done; that they actually do the right thing. They are demanding that of the national stage but their candidate for the DNC is saying the opposite; that if you’re part of an administration, you have to toe and do whatever the President does.
Now, Obama is a New Democrat, by… He’s said it openly. Hillary and Bill Clinton, Al Gore, these were all New Democrats, right? They have run against working people in terms of their policies, not every policy, but overall their policies, for over 20 years. And Tom Frank has been putting this in print for over 13 years, starting with “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” saying, and the quotations are there, read his books, “What’s the Matter with Kansas”, “Listen Liberal”. You’ll see just extraordinary statements by the New Democrats of their hostility to the working class.
There was just an Op Ed in the New York Times that said, “Democrats should move left but not towards the working class.” And you’re going, I mean, this is insane. You want to leave working class whites as, you know, virulent supporters of people like Donald Trump and just give up on those folks? That’s insane as a policy. So, Perez is being disingenuous. The New Democrats have been very hostile to labor for some considerable time.
And you can see right now that Trump is making a major effort to win unions over to his cause, saying, “I’m your guy.” Right? “I’m… your key problem is trade, globalization and your key problem is competing with immigrants.” And so, you know, while he’s been clumsy in most things politically, that most people think he’s having a significant inroads. He’s already got the inroads in the voting by people who are working class, but now he’s starting to get the entre on a high level to union leaders as well so that if the Democrats don’t get their act in gear, that aspect of the electorate is going to be increasingly difficult to win back.
KIM BROWN: Oh! Bill, I want to come back and get to that exact point, but we have to take a break. We’re speaking with Bill Black, who’s an associate professor of law and economics at the University Missouri at Kansas City. We’re talking about the debate between those who are seeking to be the Chair of the Democratic National Committee. You’re watching The Real News.
KIM BROWN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown.
Part two of our conversation with Professor Bill Black. We’ve been talking about the ongoing internal debates between Democrats and especially being played out on a public stage on Wednesday night as CNN hosted a debate amongst those seeking to Chair the Democratic National Committee. And Bill, in part one of our conversation, we left off with you talking about how Donald Trump was able to capture a good amount of the so-called white working class vote. But Bill, when you talk about someone like Donald Trump, seemingly making some overtures towards union members and working class, I mean, really you are referring to the white working class because…
BILL BLACK: Absolutely.
KIM BROWN: …Donald Trump did not win over voters of color, not by a long shot. But this is also sort of the internal debate and which has been aired publically amongst some Democrats, about allowing the so-called white working class to just be usurped by the Republicans. And some of the arguments about that is, that part of the reason that Trump and the Republicans were able to dominate so heavily in 2016 was the Democrats seeming insistence on focusing upon so-called identity politics. And this is something that we are seeing play out between the Democrats and we’re not necessarily getting a consensus here amongst the people who are vying to be the Democrat leadership.
BILL BLACK: No, you’re quite right. It’s a debate among the leadership but at least some people are now trying to take seriously the fact, and remedy the fact, that the new Democrats have engaged in what I call the long war against the working class. So, it’s not even on the issues we’ve been talking about, and that’s the point — it’s things like austerity. So, austerity says I’m going to make you unemployed so that, what? You know, for no pointless reason in terms of the economics of it. That’s insane. But the big inflation hawks have been the Clintons and Obama. So, that’s nuts. That’s a policy that we have to get rid of.
Similarly, yes, I am talking about the white working class and the white working class, you have to remember, most people think that roughly half of the white working class that voted for Trump had voted at least once for Obama. So, life is complicated. These are people who have lots of different issues. And they can be appealed to and have been appealed to successfully, and in very recent times, by people like President Obama. If the Democrats had not been waging this long war on the working class, then they’d be doing a whole lot better and they would have the Presidency today.
KIM BROWN: Hmm. So, Bill Black, I’m sorry to keep calling you by your first and last name, it just kind of rolls off the tongue very easily. Bill Black, the Democrats, they will be voting on who will be the Chair of the DNC in Atlanta over the weekend on February 23rd, on or about there. So, what are the implications for either of the two front-runners, Keith Ellison or Tom Perez, if they win? Because many are speculating that should Tom Perez win and become the Chair of the DNC, that is going to isolate and infuriate many of the Ellison people, who are de facto Sanders’ people. And can the Democrats really afford to lose this younger very engaged base of Progressive voters when in 2016, not only did Democrats lose the White House, but Republicans control, I believe, 33 Governor Houses and 32 State Legislatures. So, the Democrats are completely at a disadvantage all across the board both at the state and Federal levels. So, what are the implications here for the winner and the loser?
BILL BLACK: So, I can finally answer with a simple question… answer. No! They cannot afford that and therefore, that’s exactly what they’re likely to do. Most people think that the… that Perez may not win on the first round, but is likely to win in the second round of voting. And the message from the new Democrats is absolutely clear to the Progressive base of the Democratic Party, which again I emphasize, is the part that turns out vastly more to really vote and when they turn out they vote for Democrats. They don’t vote for, you know, they’re not folks who vote for Conservative, Moderate Republicans type such. So, the message of the new Democrats is, it is not legitimate. You are not legitimate. You are not allowed ever to have leadership in something like the DNC. You are not allowed to be Presidential candidates. The only people that are allowed are folks who are the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party. And, you know, that’s exactly what historically the new Democrats have been.
Now, they stand for other things. They stand for austerity, which is a disastrous policy for America and, in particular, for the working class. They stand for the supposed trade deals, which are really not about trade but are in fact, far more about giving weapons to corporations to destroy regulations, not so much in the United States but in other countries. For example, if you adopt a rule in a nation they bring a suit against you under these trade deals because you tried to protect your public from smoking. I’m not making that up. That’s happened twice under these trade deals. That if you try to protect your public from predatory firms, you get sued for hundreds of millions of dollars.
They’re the folks who brought us the invasion of Iraq. You know, that in enormous support with Bush and who attacked anyone who was not on board as a traitor. That’s the current acting head of the DNC, Donna Brazile, right, is a New Democrat who went, and when Bush did that invasion, on all those lies, of Iraq, and did an op ed in the Wall Street Journal of all places that basically said — any Democrat that didn’t support Bush was going to be perceived accurately as a traitor to the American people. It’s just… and in case after case, the policies against the working class that we’ve talked about as well, the funding comes overwhelmingly…
New Democrats’ funding comes almost entirely from major corporations, historically. In the key years when they were founded, their funding literally came from the Koch brothers, right, and from the Bradley Foundation, which is the most fanatically ultra-right-wing, uber-conspiracy group that focuses on destroying organized labor and is the primary reason that Scott Walker is Governor of Wisconsin, the enemy of labor.
KIM BROWN: Indeed, and I feel like we could probably have a conversation that is much longer than the one that we’re having because so many issues were raised at the debate like super delegates, the issues of rigged elections, not necessarily the General Election either, a number of the Bernie supporters were openly saying that they felt as if the Democratic Primaries were rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton.
And it’s just further proof that there are still some hurt feelings out there and some things that need to be sort of massaged in order to bring everybody into a unity sort of mindset. But unfortunately, we’re kind of running out of time. So, maybe we can have this conversation again before they finally go and vote on the Chair on the 23rd of February in Atlanta. So, hopefully we can have you back before then Bill, to sort of expand on this conversation.
BILL BLACK: Thank you.
KIM BROWN: And we’ve been joined by Bill Black. He’s an associate professor of economics and law at the University Missouri at Kansas City. We’ve been talking about the debate on Wednesday night on CNN between the numerous people who are seeking to be Chair of the Democratic National Committee. You’ve been watching The Real News.